As social distancing measures become more necessary and more enforced, in-person support for many is being restricted.
More than 60 volunteers typically provide one-on-one support and comfort care with the Squamish Hospice Society, reaching out to end-of-life patients, people living with life-limiting illness, caregivers, family members and people who are grieving.
But things have had to change with COVID-19.
“What we've had to do is pull our visiting volunteers out of homes, the hospital, long-term care and the hospice unit, in order to be compliant with VCH safety standards and to keep our community safe,” Nicole Carothers, the program director for the Squamish Hospice Society, told The Chief. “For us, who provide one-on-one support, this is a significant impact to the care we provide in our community.”
The society doesn't currently have volunteers at Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Sea-to-Sky Community Hospice, as non-essential visiting has been restricted at Vancouver Coastal Health facilities, but still provides comfort items including coffee, snacks, laundry soaps, bathroom items — anything that can help the families feel comforted in the unit.
While they’ve previously offered grief support groups and drop-in support in Squamish and Whistler, as well as yoga and relaxation tools for caregivers and the bereaved, Carothers said the society is still figuring out how to accommodate the new normal of social distancing and safety measures during the pandemic.
In a few weeks, the society hopes to begin caregiver support and grief support online.
“What we want to be able to add in is the support in a very safe and confidential way, so we're just looking into the process of that,” she said. The society is applying for a paid video conferencing service to ensure an extra layer of protection for privacy.
“I'm definitely an advocate on in-person care, but at the same time, I guess the beauty of technology is it allows those people who may have already been confined to their homes for emotional reasons or physical reasons to perhaps seek support that they wouldn't have otherwise.”
The society has postponed its largest fundraiser of the year, the 14th annual Hike for Hospice (usually on May 3). Although the society will still need financial support, Carothers said now is the time to focus on connection.
“The one silver lining for us, as we go online, the one goal for us has always been ... to provide more supports throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor,” she said.
This year, the society plans to officially change its name to the Sea to Sky Hospice Society from the Squamish Hospice Society, to reflect that they aim to be support for people throughout the corridor.
“Now with online supports, with those who have the internet, we can take a big step in reaching out... If there is a positive, I suppose it's been that push to take this leap in programming and to hopefully connect with our communities online. When the time comes to connect again face-to-face, we'll have formed some relationships and built some trust throughout the communities and created connections already.”
In the meantime, the society's volunteers are still in contact by phone. The society remains active on its Facebook page, where it will continue to share updates and resources.
“If you are struggling, please reach out to us. We will do what we can. It's not the same, and for us that's difficult, but we don't want people to feel alone,” she said.
"We will be connecting soon. We are still here.”
A spokesperson for the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation Sea-to-Sky Community Hospice was not available for an interview.